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10 Animated Movie Musicals With The Best Character Designs

Sing 2 has demonstrated that audiences still have an appetite for animated musicals. While Disney might have a tight grip on the genre, there are plenty of other fantastic pictures that have contributed something genuinely stunning to the cinema. Crafting visually compelling characters in this context is a difficult challenge.

These movie musicals set within an animated format have managed to design characters whose appearance helps to forge their personality, tell the narrative of the film itself and contribute to the overall iconic status of the project. There are so many other gorgeous artistic marvels out there, but these examples demonstrate the range of talents within the industry.


Hercules (1997)

Meg and Hercules stare lovingly at each other

Hercules was released during a period of renewal at Disney. While the heyday of the studio was seemingly behind them, some genuine gems were being released including this. Every character design is vibrant and feels like a modernized iteration of genuine Greek mythology. The symbols used in particular are steeped in history.

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From the original characters to those that legend had already immortalized, the gods and heroes of Hercules each feature such unique personality traits emboldened by their visual presentation. There’s nothing conventional about these drawings, with Hades, in particular, standing out, with his fiery skull animated perfectly to match the emotion of the character.

Moana (2016)

You're Welcome Moana

While the songs of Moana are truly phenomenal, the detail and attention that went into creating these characters shouldn’t be overlooked. Disney made it imperative that the culture that they were representing on-screen was encapsulated within the costumes and character elements.

While the team had to produce fantastical monsters and deities from mythology, they also grounded the film in the reality of the village Moana belongs to. The natural elements that were incorporated into their wardrobes, alongside the use of tattoos, really helped to elevate the piece.

Vivo (2021)

gabi holds vivo

Vivo is a genius creation from Sony Pictures Animation, that features a talking monkey and a teenager, delivering one final song from a late musician to his former lover. It’s a moving narrative, but the unconventional storytelling is immediately demonstrated through the character designs.

There’s a level of realism here, but from the colorful hair and attire of Gabi to the heightened versions of the animals involved including Vivo and Lutador, a lot is being balanced. The palette of the film is pushed to the extreme, and the artists involved ensured that the wardrobe of these characters features so many tiny details that say a little something about their history.

Encanto (2021)

The Madrigal family hugging each other on Encanto

Encanto is one of the most popular films released from Walt Disney Animation Studios in recent years, thanks to its representation of Colombia, gorgeous songwriting, and stunning animation style. Every character and their costume reflects their abilities and role within the family.

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Dolores is a perfect example, with slightly more pronounced ears and audio symbols marking her clothing, representing her gift to hear everything. The materials and techniques for creating these attires are all very grounded, but there’s a magical quality thanks to the flowing shapes and vibrant palette choices.

Sing (2016)

Voices of Taron Egerton, Reese Witherspoon, Letitia Wright, Garth Jennings, Tori Kelly, and Nick Kroll in Sing 2

It’s fair to say that the release of Sing caught many by surprise. But the combination of a hilarious script and brilliant vocals sold this family film. It’s a big ask for Illumination, to create so many animal-inspired individuals that feel animated and alive, with designs that say something about their personalities.

While other productions have struggled to find a way for animals to emote in this kind of setting, the stylized nature of the animation opens the door to all kinds of physical cues. The costumes are maybe the most surprising element, with regular clothing somehow making the situation even funnier. It’s a brilliant combination of skills at play here.

Anastasia (1997)

Anastasia is given a gift by her grandmother

Anastasia from 20th Century Studios is a bit of an oddity in film history, considering it’s developed by a team that’s not often known for their animated musicals. The story of the Russian princess is underrated and the visual style sets itself apart from its house of mouse competitor.

The richness of the clothing within the royal family is something to marvel at, as is the grittiness of the characters out in the real world. As a villain, Rasputin’s eerie appearance is genuinely haunting and is quite a departure from other antagonists in the genre.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Halloween Costumes 2020 Nightmare Before Christmas Jack and Sally

The Nightmare Before Christmas is quite a different type of animation piece, considering it used stop-motion techniques rather than the traditional method of pencil and paper or modernized computer technology. That physical artistry allows for such realistic precision within the character creation process.

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The gothic tone of the piece is hugely reflected in the costume choices of these personalities. Tiny details like the high collar of Jack’s suit, or the stitches across Sally continue to add small moments of storytelling to a film that already carries so much narrative through its songs. The bizarre range of characters across the picture is all iconic in their way and completely imaginative.

Coco (2017)

Miquel and his Family

A Pixar picture that delves straight into Mexican culture and the day of the dead, Coco had a lot to balance in this fantastic story. With the real world and the land of the dead getting portrayed on screen, there are two very different types of character presentation here.

From Miguel’s family to the skeletal appearances of his ancestors, these characters are made distinct thanks to their clothing choices and strange body humor. It has to be said that the way that Miguel himself slowly transforms is a major part of the picture and a difficult element to achieve visually. Pixar pulls it off while adding something very artistic to the afterlife.

The Lion King (1994)

Rafiki talking to Simba in the field at night on Lion King

The Lion King is another example of a cinematic experience that had to somehow add human emotions to a range of realistic animals. The stylized nature of this production is a perfect example of how that obstacle can be overcome. Unlike Sing, there are no costumes to utilize here either.

Somehow though, despite this being a collection of animals, each one is instantly recognizable. Simba is defined by his mane and kind eyes, while the cheekiness of Rafiki sets him apart from other on-screen primates. These character designs will forever stand the test of time and the live-action variation demonstrated just how complex these creations are.

Frozen (2013)

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Frozen and its sequel has cemented themselves within Walt Disney Animation’s legacy. It’s one of the most successful franchises because audiences have bought into this cast of intriguing and magical characters. That ethereal quality is presented through the attires and designs of Elsa and Anna.

Of course, less-than-human characters like Olaf and Sven have also become hugely recognizable due to how they have been animated with such kinetic energy. The personality of each character is clear to see and the royal garments of the princesses are of gorgeous quality.

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